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Trump Says He Won't Sign Short Term Bill Without Added Border Control Provisions

Dec 20, 2018
Originally published on December 21, 2018 12:29 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, we got reporters tracking this story from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. NPR's Mara Liasson is at her post at the White House, and Kelsey Snell, who covers Congress, is on Capitol Hill. Welcome, ladies.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: Hi. Kelsey, you first. Congress was looking so close just yesterday to reaching a deal that would keep the government open past tomorrow night. What happened? What's the latest?

SNELL: Yeah, the Senate passed that short-term spending bill by voice vote. And it would have had overwhelming support if they had actually voted with their voting cards. But conservatives in the House were already opposed to it before that vote was even cast, and things started to go downhill even faster when they had this closed-door meeting that they have every week among Republicans. And the conservative arm in the House just got really angry. And then House Republicans went to meet with President Trump. And they were pretty blunt about what he said. Here's what House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

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PAUL RYAN: We have very serious concerns about securing our border. So the president said he will not sign this bill. So we're going to go back and work on adding border security to this, also keeping the government open because we do want to see an agreement.

SNELL: And that's just what they're doing right now. They released a brand-new bill that added $5 billion for a border wall and $8 billion in disaster relief funds. And now they're supposed to vote on it sometime today. But we have no idea how that's going to go.

KELLY: All right, meanwhile, down at the White House - meanwhile, Mara, down at the White House, the White House was sending strong signals just hours ago that the president was open to signing what Congress sent him. So I'll put to you the question that Ailsa just put to Congressman Schweikert. Is this the president caving to his base?

LIASSON: Well, I don't know if he'd call it caving. Maybe he's getting his spine stiffened from his base.

KELLY: Right.

LIASSON: But not only did he meet with those Freedom Caucus members, but he also got pushback from his base in the form of a lot of Fox News hosts, which he does watch. And the president seems to have concluded that his base wasn't going to give him much leeway on this. So instead of just vaguely talking about border security in a way that he could declare victory no matter what was in the bill, he seems to have put himself back into the corner. And today here's how he laid out his bottom line.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: At this moment, there is a debate over funding border security and the wall, also called - so that I give them a little bit of an out - steel slats.

LIASSON: So what he said is, I don't want to use the word wall, but it has to be something like steel slats. So in other words, he has just now defined border security as a wall and a wall as steel slats. And he's given himself very little leeway. It sounds like he wants to show his base that he's at least fighting for this, not given in because he's given in on this before in the past. But what's still a mystery to me is, what is his legislative strategy for prevailing in Congress? What is his political strategy if he is blamed for a shutdown, if he doesn't prevail?

KELLY: All right, Kelsey, run with this. Whether we're calling it border security or a wall or steel slats or whatever the latest term is - I mean, you said we don't know what's going to happen. But just generally, the mood as you speak to Republicans there - are they sounding more resigned to a shutdown?

SNELL: They sound exasperated. And I've had a couple of them tell me that there's still time to work this out. One option here is that they could - you know, this could fail in the House, and they would still have to pass the spending bill that passed in the Senate. So there are still ways to get out of it. But politically speaking, this really is a kind of last-ditch effort for some conservatives in the House to put their stamp on legislation.

They don't want to give up their majority and say that they didn't get one of the president's major, major issues done. And they're feeling like this really is their last chance. They give up the gavel, the speakership to Democrats in just about a week now. And they are really feeling like they can't back down. They need to prove to their base that they fought to the end.

KELLY: Mara, in the seconds we have left, go big picture for me. What does this roller coaster of a week tell us about the power of the president at this moment?

LIASSON: Well, it's waning a little bit. But it also seems like the wall is turning into President Trump's Guantanamo, a campaign promise that he wasn't able to fulfill. And it turns out that his base took this promise literally and seriously. And it also doesn't seem like he has a strategy other than reacting to what he hears from his base or on conservative media. And don't forget; this is happening when the president's power is waning. This is the final days of him controlling both branches of Congress.

KELLY: Yeah.

LIASSON: And it's only going to get worse from here because outside of his base, the wall is not popular.

KELLY: All right, that is NPR's Mara Liasson and NPR's Kelsey Snell reporting from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Thanks to you both.

LIASSON: Thank you.

SNELL: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.